(It’s been a while, but this is another in my series of excerpted and updated Posts from my old, no longer active, blog A Glitch In Time. The original version of this post appeared in June of 2013—almost five years ago. Funny how so much can change and yet so many things remain the same. Unlike some of the other posts I revisited, this one is not spiritual in nature, but rather more aligned with my philosophy of life, and attitudes that were part of me long before I espoused or even considered a Spiritual Path. One thing that does spring to mind now is that what began as a passion, Thrifting and Picking, became a business. Though I was contemplating a business at that point, O Deer Mercantile took on a life of its own from early on, and took me where it wanted to go. 🙂 )
A Thrifted Life
Thrift- n. Wise economy in the management of money and other resources; frugality.
Thrifty- adj. Practicing or marked by the practice of thrift; wisely economical.
Thriftiness- n. Frugality in the expenditure of money or resources.
Thrifting- v. Refers to the act of shopping at a thrift store, flea market, garage sale, or a shop of a charitable organization, usually with the intent of finding interesting items at a cheap price. A larger philosophy often permeates the act of thrifting, which celebrates the recycling of formerly-owned items, finding new use and new love for vintage material goods which had been thrown out, and the thrill of imagining what the former life of the item was like.
I am always the first to admit that I am more than a little cheap. It is in my nature I think— perhaps a genetic attribute passed down through the generations, affecting some of us but not others in my family. In an earlier post, I spoke of my love for collecting the shiny, the old, the odd and the unusual. I like stuff. Though part of me is always aware that we do not really ever own anything in this life, that we are just passing through, and should strive to simplify and live more frugally, I still achieve the keenest sense of joy from the eclectic items I surround myself with. And nothing makes me much happier than getting a great deal.
My cheapness derives in some part from not having an over-abundance of money for much of my life and to a strong strain of Yankee frugality, but I would be lying to you and myself if I did not admit that it goes very much deeper. I was going to tag sales, junk shops, thrift stores and flea markets for a long time before they gained the chic stamp of approval they currently enjoy. As a teenager, my wardrobe consisted of treasured finds from the fifty cent bag sales at a local thrift shop, and jeans from the downtown army-navy surplus store. I sported things like sequined sweaters and to my mind, the find of all times, a genuine fox fur stole with a closure that made it look like it was biting its own tail. While I was, in my own view, so very haute couture in fifties jackets and argyle socks rolled above my boy’s converse sneakers, my Mother cringed. Most mornings we quarreled before I finally departed for school. I was a terrible embarrassment, I know, but I was the definition of cool (Which is—not having a clue that you are. I only found out in later years when people I went to school with would tell me in reverent tones that I was. And here I spent my high school years thinking I was a socially inept geek. Most of my friends were folks I met at work and outside school.) I have digressed somewhat, but you see, my need to thrift goes way back. I also seem to be physically unable to pass a clearance rack or final sales table without stopping to look.
I have at times wondered if it were a disease or malady that should be cured, but I do not think so. I like that the definitions for Thrift include the words wise, frugal and economical. I think that those are vitally important concepts in a world that is drowning in a material flood of goods and commodities. While I may love a deal, I shudder at what industrialization and mass production have resulted in. A proliferation of cheap and ultimately disposable products are one of the great nightmare’s of this fledgling century. It is a paradox, in my view, that things mean so much to us, and yet so little. People work so hard to acquire more, better, newer, and more fashionable stuff, and yet those same folks discard and replace these things so easily. Shortly after I began this post, a perfect illustration of the waste that has become part of the Consciousness out there occurred. My mother and stepfather had a rental property which was vacated quite suddenly, and my Mom called and told me there was a LOT of stuff left behind if I wanted to come look through it.
I did want to look. How could I not? As it turned out, I am still in some sort of shock. The people who had lived in this place were Hoarders in the truest sense of the word. The place was horribly dirty and went further beyond cluttered than I have ever actually seen— and I have been into a lot of cluttered homes over the years. It is very hard to describe. There were stacks of books, papers, clothing and household goods everywhere. Some of it was garbage, old newspapers and other refuse, but mostly it was the largest and most varied stash of collectibles I have ever seen in one place. Horror movie posters and paraphernalia; Disney collectible items from tiny miniatures to large pictures and stuffed toys; Star Wars and Star Trek memorabilia; And anything ever having to do with the Titanic. All of that was just the tip of the iceberg and the most difficult part to assimilate is that they left it all behind. Comic books, toys, limited edition collectibles or memorabilia in original wrappers were stacked among personal papers and photographs and household appliances and furniture, and every bit of it was casually discarded by its owners. What did they take with them? Amongst so much stuff, how could you even begin to guess?
We began sifting through it all after the initial astonishment wore off, and I brought home a variety of items from Christmas decor to curtains and towels. My son found a trove of collectors comics and my daughter, delicate Japanese tea sets. Lots else, too. Mom and my Stepdad finally just settled for salvaging what they could of the more valuable items before hiring a company to get it cleaned out. It was just too massive an amount of stuff (all this was in a two bedroom town-home) for us to get through it all ourselves.
While I proudly proclaim that I like stuff, I cannot understand the mindset of such acquisitiveness. I care for my possessions. I keep my home reasonably clean, and I like my clutter organized. When I am through with an item for any reason, if it is still serviceable, it is donated in the proper quarter. Thrifting is recycling in a complete sense for me. My wardrobe changes with my whims, but at any given time, over half of the items in my closet are from thrift or consignment shops. My favorite things almost always are. When I am tired of something, it returns to the shop or gets reused for something else. We only discard that which no longer can be used.
Our home, in large part, is furnished in a style which should probably be called Modern Thrift Store. Having furniture and accessories that match does not necessarily loom large in my decorating approach. While lots of pieces have been acquired by me at thrift shops and similar establishment, there are also discards, hand-me-down pieces and some of those old stand-by bring it home in a box and put it together yourself shelves and desks. And it is all just fine.
When we moved to Florida from North Carolina five and a half years ago, it was into a much larger house and there were more than a few bare spots. A few trips to a local used furniture store remedied that. That store has since become one of my favorite haunts. Some of my very favorite things, including book shelves, bar cart and bar, side chairs and china cabinet, have come from there. All of these items were purchased for a fraction of what new furniture of like quality would cost. Our house may not be furnished with the newest or most stylish appointments, but when I look at it I see a warm and inviting Home.
A Business More Born Than Planned
After we got settled into our life in Florida I thought to pursue my old dream of an online outlet for the handiwork of myself and my daughter Gaia. We began with my handmade jewelry and Gaia’s cute and quirky sewn creations. Since my frequent thrift shopping excursions were yielding more Finds than I had need of, I decided to list a few vintage items as well. As anyone who has an Etsy Shop knows, with so many vendors, it is very difficult to get started, to get people to your shop and to stand out. If I had stuck with it or focused on it more, my jewelry would likely have begun to sell, but my early sales were almost all vintage items. And, to tell the truth, I quickly realized I had more passion and pleasure from the discovery, research and selling of these used treasures. While we still offer Gaia’s handiwork, I phased out the jewelry and devoted my time and resources to my pre-loved stock.
I have learned a great deal in the past couple of years. I spend more time reading and researching than I do discovering my vintage treasures. I want to know what I am selling, when it was made and what for (in some cases) . The history is important to me, and I truly believe that it is just as important to many of my customers. While I have collected and used antiques and vintage items since I was very young, I have really branched out in the style, and time periods my wares come from, since beginning the shop. It makes me feel good to live with these pieces of the past, and I want to pass that appreciation along to another generation.
Finding the items I sell, as often as not, seems to result as much from a good eye, luck, and kismet as from any great knowledge base. I discover some of the wildest things in some of the most unlikely places at times, that I have to just stop and laugh. I really do get joy from frequenting the small, local places that sell used and discarded stuff. But even if I didn’t love it so, so much— there is a practical aspect to the hunt— an economic and ecological purpose that just makes sense to me.
I like the phrase, to Make Do. I remember hearing my grandmother use those words as she mended, repaired or found another use for something because she knew that there was not the luxury of replacing it. Things were handed down, socks were darned and cast-off clothing became quilts, pot holders and finally cleaning rags. My grandmother didn’t sew and make quilts as a hobby, but because she needed to. Though recycling has become fashionable and ecologically satisfying to some extent. It doesn’t go nearly far enough. We need to make a shift in consciousness— to consider the ultimate replacement value of each and every material possession. We need to trade the cheap and shoddily made for quality and craftsmanship that can stand the test of time and use. This is only going to become more of an issue as the Earth’s population grows and our natural resources dwindle. No news there. I was acutely aware of these very same issues a quarter of a century ago, and it saddens me that so little has really changed in the interim. It is true that much has changed where technology and lifestyle are concerned, and in fact more people are aware of the growing ecological, climatic and economic challenges the entire world faces, but so very little is being done about any of it.
I am guilty as are most of us. My youthful activism and commitment to change gave way to complacency and dependence on the convenience that our present culture provides us. I have way more of everything than I need, and often, instead of making do, I toss out those shoddily manufactured socks and garments and replace them with equally deficient items. I daily make choices that are not the best ones for myself, my children and grandchildren, and the planet. But I would like to do better, and I continue to do what I can. If it seems this post is becoming a platform for thoughts and ideas which are related to my original theme, but are much larger than I originally intended, that is true.
I could be accused of justifying my secondhand lifestyle, and just maybe drumming up business for my vintage shop, but I do not really think so. I love this particular way of obtaining things I need, and would live this way anyway, but I really do believe that thrifting, recycling, reusing and re-purposing need to go far beyond being fads and trends, and instead, become a way of looking at life. We need to learn to Make Do again.
Save the World…
If we are going to keep living on the face of this planet, we need to take a step back and look at how we live. Buying used, reused, recycled, vintage and multiple (rather than single) use products needs to become a given. There is only so much raw materials to go around, and only so much space to dump the waste that results from the extravagant lifestyles we continue to choose.
Think about it.
Until Next Time…